Final Word: NFC West

November, 25, 2011
11/25/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:

The NFC West "race" continues. The San Francisco 49ers were in position to clinch the division title with a victory against Baltimore and a Seattle defeat at home to Washington. But with the 49ers losing to the Ravens on Thursday night, it is still technically possible for the Seahawks or Arizona Cardinals to match San Francisco's victory total this season. The 49ers play three of their final four on the road. The home game is against Pittsburgh. The Seahawks play their next three at home against losing teams, followed by a road game against the quarterback-challenged Bears. If the 49ers beat St. Louis in Week 13 and win at Arizona in Week 14, they'll win the NFC West. If they were to drop that Arizona game and then lose to the Steelers, a four-game winning streak by Seattle would make the Week 16 game between the Seahawks and 49ers meaningful. The 49ers have two games remaining against the Rams, making it nearly impossible for them to do anything but win the West.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Phil Sears/US PresswireRams quarterback Sam Bradford is throwing down the field more this season, but that hasn't translated into success for St. Louis' offense.
Airing it out, or erring it out? The Rams have followed through on their pledge to seek bigger pass plays down the field. Quarterback Sam Bradford averaged 6.4 air yards per pass attempt last season, the lowest figure in the league among 43 players with at least 100 attempts. Bradford ranks ninth this season. On average, his passes have traveled 8.9 yards past the line of scrimmage before reaching their targets. The longer passes have not paid off, however. Bradford's completion percentage has dropped, as would be expected for a quarterback attempting longer passes, but his average for yards per attempt has remained flat at a mediocre 6.0. The Rams have taken sacks on 10 percent of pass attempts, up from 5.8 percent in Bradford's rookie season.

Defending the run. Arizona (11), St. Louis (nine) and Seattle (five) have allowed 25 individual 100-yard rushing performances since the 49ers last allowed one 34 games ago. The Seahawks' best run defender, Red Bryant, missed three of those five games and most of a fourth.

About those dynamic tight ends. The NFC West loaded up on tight ends in the offseason. Seattle signed Zach Miller. Arizona signed Todd Heap and Jeff King. St. Louis drafted Lance Kendricks in the second round. The results have been underwhelming. Heading into Week 12, the NFC West featured no players among the 15 most-targeted tight ends in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The 49ers' Vernon Davis ranked 16th with 51 targets. Davis, teammate Delanie Walker and the Cardinals' King are the only NFC West tight ends with touchdown receptions so far this season. Six NFC West tight ends had scoring catches last season.

Uncomfortable fan dynamics. Franchise relocation can create strained relationships between teams and their former players, to say nothing of fans caught in the middle. We've seen Rams great Jack Youngblood complain about the organization's efforts to embrace players from its time in Los Angeles. This week, the Cardinals return to St. Louis, the city they left after the 1987 season. They are seeking their seventh consecutive victory at the Edward Jones Dome, which would represent the longest road winning streak against a single opponent in franchise history. The Cardinals are planning alumni events for a long list of St. Louis-era players, including Mel Gray, Jackie Smith, Roger Wehrli and Larry Wilson.

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